Charts Can Be Deceiving!

Charts Can Be Deceiving

Welcome back to class folks.  This is the place for FREE WORLDWIDE CLASSES in Understanding Country Music Radio, Charts , and The Play of Females on Country Radio.

So far I have maintained that country radio plays songs more when they test well and less or not at all when they test poorly. For the most part that is true. However, there are times radio stations play songs that they are told to play!


Let me explain.  Everyone knows what payola is.  First, it’s illegal for a radio programmer to take something of value in exchange for airplay.  So to be clear, what I am going to write about is not payola.  Plus, ever since Elliott Spitzer caught some programmers about to get big screen televisions for playing records, that practice has stopped.  In fact, the record labels have lawyers who make sure the labels activities are in compliance.  Every email you ever get from a record label will have that “legal-eze” below the person’s email signature.  Something like, “Note: Nothing of value was given or will be given to a radio station or radio station employee in exchange for airplay.”

I happened to agree with Scott Borchetta, “Music Has Value.” There are good and honest hard working folks who promote music to radio.  Promoting music to radio is a legitimate enterprise.

Welcome to 2019.  There are some new things at work. 

I’m going to assume that all of you have completed, “Music On Radio 101, 201, 301” because foundationally, a lot of this grows out of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  That’s a law that essentially addressed the telephone industry.  However, it did have a line or two about ownership of radio stations that changed the radio industry a bunch.

Fast forward to today.  The Mediabase charts that Dr. Jada Watson and all of us look at have some important metrics that you need to know.  The Country Mediabase panel is comprised of 156 radio stations. 52 of them are owned by iHeartMedia Inc.  That’s about one third of that panel.  So if those iHeart programmers all like a record, it can do pretty well.

Sometimes these PD/MD/Brand Managers play songs they don’t want to.


Well they do want to play them because they want to keep their jobs.  So, truthfully your honor, they did want to play them.

It’s easy to appreciate that iHeartMedia corporate does things that are helpful to the individual stations.  Certainly, a big festival in Austin on May 4thwould be a great event to have to promote, broadcast from, and send listeners to.  Plus it’s in the very middle of the Nielsen rating period.  So, if you’re the brand manager of an iHeartMedia station, you love this kind of corporate support.

Those programmers certainly have no problem playing Tim McGraw, Florida-Georgia Line, Dan + Shay, and Luke Combs records to support the show.  In fact, playing more of those artists will help you in the ratings for sure!

Someone at iHeartMedia corporate had to work with the labels to get all of this done.  It’s not hard to believe that a label or two would say… ,“we will give you a new act of ours for your show.”  The label knows in turn they will get plays of this new artist as part of the promotion on iHeartmedia stations.  Imagine for a moment Columbia Records saying to iHeart, “we have a terrific new female from Canada who is huge up there already and we want to break her in the states.  We will send her to play your festival in Austin at no cost to iHeart, and in turn we hope that you will support her with on-air plays and mentions.” 

The iHeart executive says, “great.”  “Yes, I can’t make any measurable or specific promises, but we like to use our brands (stations) to promote our festival.  So, we will encourage our stations to play her record.  In fact, we have an internal term for that.  We call those acts “on the verge.”  So, you can be confident of our selfish efforts to promote the festival.

The deal is done.  The record label offers the act without the specific promise of anything in return.  They just want the exposure of the act.  They also hope and believe that stations will play the new act’s record to promote the festival.

iHeart gets a terrific new female to add to the festival.  That’s the definition of a WIN-WIN!

Now imagine you’re programming a meaningful iHeart station that carries some pretty good weight on the Mediabase panel.  You get a friendly email from iHeart corporate programming that states you need to play Tenille Townes – Somebody’s Daughter 40 spins every week for the next couple of weeks.  The email says, “it’s our On The Verge act and Tenille will be at the Festival May 4th! Thanks in advance for all your hard work in building equity into this very important iHeart Country Music Festival. See You There!”

If you check records in Mediabase, those 52 iHeart stations comprise about 20% to 30% of the plays and audience impressions on most songs (songs by Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood etc.).

Because of their benevolence, Columbia Records in turn gets a nice reward.

Those 52 iHeartmedia stations all play Tenille Townes. And not just play the song, but spin it at levels similar to those of power testing top 10 charting songs.

 The result is that those 52 iHeart stations today comprise 74% of the spins and 80% of the audience reach and impressions for Somebody’s Daughter by Tenille Townes. 

 (That means the other 104 stations are contributing 20%-25% of the plays on the Townes record.  They don’t have a festival to promote!  However iHeartmedia does!)

So, when regular folks look at the charts and see Tenille Townes at 30, they think, “wow this must be a good record with that station count.”  A cursory look at a few stations (WNOE, WYNK, KSD, WQIK, WDXB, WBUL, WDRM, WSSL, WCOS, KTEX, KXKT, WBBS, WBCT), and they are giving the song an eye popping 25 to 40 spins a week!

The truth is there is tremendous bias to play Tenille Townes. 

I wonder if more than 10% of those iHeart stations would play it were it not for the “on the verge” email from corporate?  I suspect that without the “on the verge” initiative, the spin counts would not be that robust.

Hey, let’s check that record after the Festival is over. They might continue to play it in support of an “after-glow” and “celebrate the Festival after the promotion.”  The real test will be what happens two, three and four weeks from now.  If the Townes record continues to climb, then Columbia will have done a righteous job.  They will have primed the pump of success.  After that initial advantage of exposure, the song might organically take off.   IF that happens, we will have a new face with more equity.  Check back in upcoming weeks, because I will check for you!

Because Dr. Jada Watson based a big “study” on Mediabase charts, she needs to understand that some of those chart positions are less than organic and natural.

Written by Adjunct Professor Keith Hill with a BA in real world experience. (Beware of folks with a Doctorate in Musicology who have never worked in radio and never added even one record!)

iHeartmedia is the parent of iHeartradio, and went through Bankruptcy Protection.

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